Wine 101: Training Your Palate

Dry. Crisp. Acidic. Herbal. Floral. Astringent. Velvety. Balanced. Fruity. Sweet.

These are all common terms (among several others) that we hear when wine tasting. But what does that all mean? Who imagines what velvet feels like in their mouth, and of course its fruity it’s made from grapes. Right?

Well here at Wilson Creek we like to make wine experiences approachable and fun, so read on to see how these flavors and scents come to life within a good glass of wine.

TRAINING YOUR PALATE

Let’s start with a few of the main components of wine: Acidity, Tannin, Sugar, and Fruit. The more confident you feel about identifying these components, the more enjoyable the wine tasting experience becomes.

ACIDITY

For wine, the term “acidity” is used to describe the tart or citrusy taste being recognized on the palate. This component is more common in white wines than it is in reds. Acid is important because it keeps the wine fresh and lively. It has a cleansing effect which makes it great for pairing with food.

Some descriptive words you will run into while tasting are: crisp, citrusy, lively, bright, vitality, tart.

Tip: In wine jargon, “sour” means spoiled or tastes like vinegar. So try to stay away from describing wine as “sour” if what you really mean one of the descriptive words above.

Train your palate : Combine freshly squeezed lemon juice into a tiny glass of water (you want mostly lemon juice to get the desired sensation). Take a sip and focus on where in your mouth you feel the acidity. It should mostly be felt in the back of your mouth at the base of your cheeks. Notice the way your mouth begins to water and tingle? This same sensation is what happens when tasting a wine higher in acidity.

Try it with wine : Our Grenache Blanc has a light golden hue with a vibrant herbaceous, floral and citrus nose. On the palate the acidity is quick to show but cascades into flavors of citrus zest, honeydew melon and peach. The firm acidity makes this a good food pairing wine. Examples of great acidity could also be found in our sparkling wines as well.

 

TANNIN

This one can be tricky to understand, as it is more something we feel rather than taste. Tannin is a component found in the skins, seeds, and stems of all grapes; as well as the oak barrels the wine is aged in. It’s most noticeable as a drying sensation in your mouth between your cheeks and gums. Tannin is recognized more in red wines, and help to provide structure and power. However, too much tannin can make wine taste bitter and overly astringent.

Some descriptive words include: astringent, dry, grippy, coarse

Tip: Pair wine high in tannin with heavier dishes. The tannin in wine helps break down proteins and fats.

Train your palate : Make yourself some overly-steeped plain black tea. Take a sip and concentrate on the drying sensation around your mouth, mostly between your cheeks and gums. This is the same sensation tannin creates in wine.

Try it with wine Our 2014 WS Syrah would be great for identifying tannin. On the palate you will find earthiness of leather followed by berry highlights of black currant and blackberries. The tannins are well-integrated, giving a full mouth feel and a long finish. Pairs great with anything off the grill, like BBQ Ribs and Rib-eye Steak.

 

SUGAR, FRUIT, OTHER FLAVORINGS

Aromas and tastes of sugar, fruit, herbs, spices, and oak are easier concepts to grasp when wine tasting. We are already so familiar with these flavors.

Sugar : The higher the residual sugar (RS) the sweeter the wine will be. This can be identified by a pleasant, slippery sort of mouth feel.

Fruit : The fruit-like quality of a wine can be recognized by smell and taste. This doesn’t mean you will only detect the actual grapes, but also scents of citrus and berries. Other nature-driven aromas or tastes include floral, herbal, and grassy (specifically in white wines).

Oak : As for oak, this component in wine is caused by it being matured or fermented in oak barrels. Oak from different sources (i.e., French or American) will inflict different characteristics on the wine. In general, oak maturation gives aromas and flavors of butter, toffee, caramel, vanilla, and spice.

Train your palateExperiment with strawberries, bananas, blackberries, lemons herbs, spices, flowers, and oak chips. Crush the fruit and herbs, then place these ingredients in separate wine glasses with a little bit of water. Sniff each glass to smell its aroma. Similar scents are what you experience when smelling the wine in your glass before sipping.

Try it with wine : Our White Cabernet is great for identifying fruit and sugar in wine, without being overly sweet. To practice identifying oak, our ’14 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is great at giving off these characteristics. Aged in both French and American oak barrels, aromas of oak spice and vanilla prevail nicely.

Now you are ready to wine taste with some confidence! Just remember. As fun as it is to be knowledgeable about wine aromas and tastes, the primary purpose of wine is to be enjoyed!

Visit us in our Tasting Room (open everyday from 10am – 5pm) to enjoy some wine!

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